Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Principles of Godly Complaint

“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”

~Numbers 11:1 (NIV).

How may we appropriately complain bitterly about the circumstances of our lives? How are we assured of not provoking God’s holy wrath? Well, it’s got less to do with the New Covenant reality than we’d think—God’s nature hasn’t changed. He still hates sin. Just because we’re under grace doesn’t mean God goes easier on sin.

There’s a way to complain in life and there are ways not to. The Israelites who aroused the anger of God complained amongst each other, stirring up more and more dissension, spiritual dishevelment and sin.

Complaints like this only make our situations worse. Bitterness might feel good at the time, but it really has us on a road to nowhere.

The right way to render complaint and lament in the godly way is to go straight to the source, as Moses often did, for instance in Numbers 11:10-15. He puts his case straightforwardly before God and God answers—and there’s no wrath in sight.

The Psalms of Lament

Whenever we consider lament in the Old Testament we’re always drawn to the Psalms—over a third of this book is logged in lament; bitter distresses and complaint toward God, and at times, even at God!

Yet, a fact lost on many is, anthropomorphically, God’s got very broad shoulders.

He can take anything we can throw at him but this doesn’t mean we should blatantly blaspheme and disrespect him—he is still to be awed.

It is healthy for us to immerse ourselves in the lament psalms when we feel life’s unjust and unfair. We might find we have a thing or four in common with the psalmists.

And the greatest truth in this is we can only be delivered spiritually out of our distresses and laments when we deal directly with God. Complaining to others who’re not responsible enough to guide us wisely can only make things worse; sympathy, especially, makes things worse. The last thing we need is sympathy; it keeps us lamenting. Empathy and encouragement to go on by thinking differently is what we need.

God has a way of helping us when we vocalise our complaints with him; somehow we hear ourselves and his Spirit goes to work within us, healing us.

Finally, we always need to check the type of complaint we bring before God. A biblical complaint is to complain about the pain and circumstances of our trials, but never to ultimately resent them. We complain faithfully, trusting God; sure, we’re honest with him but the overall result must be to leave the lament trusting God to act according to his will and not ours, accepting same. This is a mature lament.

Our spiritual delivery depends on having a trusting approach toward God in our lament.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Lament Psalms in the Psalter

According to the world’s most leading form critics, the following psalms are consistently classified as ‘laments of the individual’: Psalms 3; 5-7; 13; 17; 22; 25; 26; 28; 31; 35; 38; 39; 42; 43; 51; 54-57; 59; 61; 63; 64; 69-71; 86; 88; 102; 109; 130; 140-143. Source: Philip S. Johnston & David G. Firth (eds.), Interpreting the Psalms – Issues and Approaches (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press/Apollos, 2005), pp. 296-300. Also note that many of the laments of the individual finish in praise and that few feature as imprecatory (cursing) as the mood broached in this article. Some may even have merely a verse or two speaking harshly. There is generally a movement toward praise, even in laments.

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